What is Osteoporosis?
Osteoporosis is a health condition that is associated with weakened bones. It develops slowly, over a period of years, and makes bones more susceptible to breaking. Medical researchers estimate that over two hundred million people, worldwide, suffer from osteoporosis.
The International Osteoporosis Foundation estimates that one in five women, and one in five men over the age of fifty, will experience bone fractures in their lifetime, which are caused by osteoporosis. Researchers claim that there is no way to predict an impending fracture. When they do happen, however, it is a signal that there are likely more fractures to come.
Medical researchers believe that most serious cases of osteoporosis can be prevented, as long as the loss of bone density can be detected early enough, through bone mineral density analysis. The early stage of bone mineral loss is termed, ‘osteopenia’. It does not necessarily lead to osteoporosis and bone fractures. It depends, to a great extent, upon us.
One of the best ways to prevent osteoporosis is by carefully monitoring our diets and lifestyle, adding foods that support healthy bone maintenance, and by eliminating foods and substances that tend to weaken bone tissue.
Foods That Support Healthy Bones and Help Prevent Osteoporosis
- milk, yogurt, cheese, and dairy products
- most green, leafy vegetables, like lettuce, broccoli, okra, and cabbage (not spinach)
- soy beans and soy bean derivatives, like tofu and soy milk
- tree nuts
- breads and whole grains and flours
Even though spinach has calcium, it also contains a phytochemical that retards the absorption of calcium.
Vitamin D is necessary for proper calcium absorption. Without Vitamin D, even if we consume calcium in our diets, we may still come up short in our calcium intake. Vitamin D is the easiest vitamin to consume, since we make it every time we go out into the sunlight. So why are 40% of Americans Vitamin D deficient? We live indoors. For that reason, most people need to take a vitamin D supplement. Foods containing Vitamin D include:
- fish like salmon, sardines and mackerel
- fat spreads (margarine)
- fortified breakfast cereals
- fortified dairy and powdered dairy
Vitamin C also enhances calcium absorption. We get Vitamin C from fresh fruits and vegetables.
Magnesium also plays a role in maintaining healthy bones. However, our ability to absorb magnesium diminishes as we age. Magnesium-rich foods include:
- dark chocolate
- tree nuts
- legumes (beans)
- seeds (sunflower, pumpkin, etc.)
- whole grains
- fatty fish
- leafy greens (not spinach)
A Vitamin K deficiency has been linked to osteoporosis and hip fractures. Researchers have shown that women who consumed more than 254 mg per day had a very low risk for developing bone fractures.
Low levels of zinc have also been associated with bone density deterioration.
Proteins, derived from protein-rich foods, like grains, nuts, dairy, eggs, and meats, do not support bone health directly, but rather indirectly. Proteins help to maintain health muscle tissues, which in turn support bones and joints, thereby reducing the risk of fractures.
Osteoporosis Risk Factors
There are a number of factors which can increase the risk for developing osteoporosis. These include:
- a family history of osteoporosis and bone fractures
- taking certain medicines, such as high-dose steroids and anti-estrogen pills
- eating disorders, such as anorexia and bulimia
- heavy smoking and excessive drinking
- sedentary lifestyle
- having a low BMI (body mass index)
Foods and Substances to Avoid to Maintain Healthy Bones
If you believe you are at risk for developing osteoporosis, avoid the following:
- excess salt consumption can actually cause your body to leach, or expel calcium
- excess alcohol consumption (more than 3/day) can lead to bone loss
- consuming more than two cups of coffee daily can contribute to bone loss, especially when the subject consumes less than 800 mg of calcium daily
Prevent Osteoporosis Checklist
If you're a post-menopausal woman, or a man over the age of fifty-five, here's your marching orders.
- Eat calcium-rich foods, especially dairy
- Supplement your diet with Vitamins A, D, C, and K
- Supplement your diet with magnesium and zinc
- Keep your muscles toned and healthy with activity and protein
- Commit to salt-free diet
- Stop smoking
- Limit alcohol to two or three drinks a week
- Cut coffee consumption to two cups per day
- Get off of the couch and be physically active
Bone deterioration is a fairly common health problem, especially for older people, since bone density tends to decrease with age. The good news is there is something you can do about it by making smart dietary choices, and by supplementing your diet with vitamins and minerals that support healthy bones.